Serena Simmons Consultant Psychologist

Change. Motivate. Adapt. Improve. Perform

What does success look like to you?

Leave a comment

You would have to be living on the moon to have missed the latest news regarding refugees trying to enter the UK and other parts of Europe at the moment.

The awful things that these people have experienced or witnessed in their own countries can be just too much for your heart to bear at times.  And as we watch them struggle to get to our shores, I can’t help but wonder about where they have come from?  Who are they leaving behind?  What have they experienced?  How desperate must they feel?  What do they wish for their future and that of their family and loved ones?

A child stands in front of her home at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, Thursday, Aug 4, 2011. Dadaab, a camp designed for 90,000 people now houses around 440,000 refugees. Almost all are from war-ravaged Somalia. Some have been here for more than 20 years, when the country first collapsed into anarchy. But now more than 1,000 are arriving daily, fleeing fighting or hunger(AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

If you are like me, when I see these things I begin to ponder what is important to me in my own life?  It’s that classic thought process that has you start to feel grateful for all you have.

I have my health, a roof over my head, food and fresh water, my loved ones in good health and near to me.  I have access to education, a good job and the chance to contribute to others.  I have the freedom to speak out, to vote, to be who I want to be, to make my own choices…the list goes on!

What is success?

What is apparent to me is that we in the West typically strive for ‘success’ in ways that are so different from the people we see in these situations.  Success in Western culture often centres around financial and materialistic wealth and so we strive towards these things as markers of this.

Success for these people who have lost their homes and have no freedom or civil rights, may be to strive merely to regain this in some way, hoping for safety, shelter, food and water.

Quite obviously these examples are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they highlight something interesting, which is that success is defined differently depending on your life experiences, which are very much based on where you have lived in time and space.


As a psychologist, it is so important to be aware of the ‘filters’ that have informed our experiences of the world and thus how we see it and then assimilate this into how we live our lives, or in this case perceive ‘success’.

For example, I have worked with clients who feel that they are not ‘successful’ because they did not get the promotion that would push their salary up by £30,000 per year which would allow them to have another holiday, retire earlier and invest more that year.

On the other end of the spectrum I have also worked with clients whose aim is to not live in their overdraft every month, and to be able to go out with a friend for coffee and cake without having to plan for it for 2 months as they are not sure that they could afford it.

Neither person is wrong to want these things.

Neither person perceives ‘success’ in the same way.

Both are merely based on their own individual experiences and belief systems which are built over a lifetime.

What are your needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably one of the most universally known psychology models, and this does help when trying to make sense of these extreme examples.


Maslow proposes that we each have needs as a human being, and that our most basic needs need to be met in order for us to want to go to the ‘next level’ of attainment.

As you can see here, physiological needs much be met first, before one can consider things like employment or property.  Maybe when we have achieved this, we may begin to think about where we fit in terms of our social networks?  Do we have a partner and a good circle of friends?  And so it goes on.

This model does receive some criticism (which I will avoid here, but you can probably see the obvious ones!).

What is important in this conversation about success, is that we can make sense of the behaviours of people in light of this context.  When looking at success via this lens of ‘needs’ via a natural progression, it is obvious then how each platform allows you the foundation to go on to achieve the next thing.

Without judgement

When I work with a client who has stated that they want to be more ‘successful’ I always start with the question, ‘what does success look like to you?’

**You may want to do this as an exercise right now.  Take 10 minutes just to write down what success ‘looks like’ to you.  If you were to achieve success what where would you be, what would you have, what would you be doing, who would you be with? – Be as specific as possible**

It is also interesting to get a friend to do this if they are willing and then to see how your views compare? (You can also do this with a partner, if you can both remain calm on the things that may differ!).  You may be surprised at what you think when it actually comes to writing it down, also how differently we may view this.

Being really specific about what this is for you helps in a couple of ways.  First of all when you don’t know what success is to you, it can be more difficult to feel like you are ever successful.  Quite simply, because you didn’t know what you were looking to achieve in the first place! What is your destination?

For example maybe success to you includes…

…having more time to spend with your family

…writing a book

…having enough money so that you can give to your chosen charities

…making enough money to take a foreign holiday every year

…to have saved enough for your retirement

…to factor in volunteering

…to own your own home

…to start your own business

When you define this for yourself, it is easier to strive actively towards something and feel a sense of achievement when you reach that goal.  The other reason it is important is because you can then re-evaulate from this point and set a new goal if you so wish to…the constant desire to keep evolving is so important.

So, what is success to you?

 So, you are not wrong for wanting to achieve success, whatever that looks like to you.  If you can be clear about what it is you want and work towards achieving it/those goals, that is wonderful!

Go out and get it!

Plan it, make it happen…because you can!

Also, going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy you’ll notice that the very top layer shows that when all is achieved on a personal level we will then be able to embrace self-actualisation.

I actually hope and believe that this is a layer that actually runs through the entire hierarchy. You see it is this that allows us to feel compassion for others in situations less fortunate than ours, like those of the people I discussed at the start of this blog.

With that same creativity, sense of morality and problem solving we can also help others on their own path to success along the way!

That is my wish anyway.

Till next week…


Please do go over and check out my Facebook Page where I post more Multi-passionate musings every day of the week.  I’d love to see you there!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s